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In Context #7 (Spring, 2002, pp. 5-7); copyright 2002 by The Nature Institute

Seeing the Rainforest

The following are some notes drawn from the rainforest sections of Andreas Suchantke's book, Eco-Geography: What We See When We Look at Landscapes (Great Barrington MA: Lindisfarne, 2001).


When Andreas Suchantke walks through the Amazonian or African rainforest, he senses an entire lifeworld straining upward, seeking the light—almost, you might say, excarnating. The ecosystem has substantially detached itself from the earth, so that the walker finds himself traversing the forest's root zone. Giant, buttressing roots splay out from high up on tree trunks; the trees "seem to be standing on the earth rather than rooted in it. And, indeed, underground the roots hug the surface so closely that here and there they reemerge, coiling over the surface like great snakes" (p. 39). Everything you see immediately around you is root-like: "the hanging ropes of the lianas are scarcely distinguishable from the ubiquitous strangler fig and epiphyte tendrils, which are actually roots" (p. 40). (Epiphytes are plants growing non-parasitically upon other plants.)

Remove the thin layer of leaf debris on the forest floor, and you find an equally thin layer of rhizome-rich humus, which, if scratc